Wednesday March 20, 2019
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The Wrath Of Seas And Climate Change

An El Niño warming pattern appears to be developing in the Pacific. That tends to squash hurricane activity in the Atlantic.

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Climate change, U.S.
Waves from Hurricane Florence pound the Bogue Inlet Pier in Emerald Isle, N.C. VOA

The seas are angry this month.

While the remnants of Hurricane Florence soak the Carolinas and Typhoon Mangkhut pounds the Philippines, three more tropical cyclones are spinning in the Western Hemisphere, and one is petering out over Southeast Asia.

Experts say some of this extreme tropical weather is consistent with climate change. But some isn’t. And some is unclear.

It’s unusual to have so many storms happening at once. But not unheard of.

“While it is very busy, this has happened a number of times in the past,” said meteorologist Joel Cline at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Mid-September is the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season. If there are going to be storms in both hemispheres, Cline said, now is the most likely time.

Climate Change
Russ Lewis covers his eyes from a gust of wind and a blast of sand as Hurricane Florence approaches Myrtle Beach, S.C.. VOA

Stronger storms, and a grain of salt

Scientists are not necessarily expecting more hurricanes with climate change, however.

“A lot of studies actually (show) fewer storms overall,” said NOAA climate scientist Tom Knutson.

“But one thing they also tend to simulate is slightly stronger storms” and a larger proportion of Category 4 or 5 hurricanes, Knutson said. Florence made landfall as a Category 1 storm but started the week as a Category 4.

Knutson and other experts caution that any conclusions linking climate and hurricanes need to be taken with a grain of salt.

“Our period of record is too short to be very confident in these sorts of things,” said University of Miami atmospheric scientist Brian McNoldy.

While reliable temperature records go back more than a century in much of the world, comprehensive data on hurricanes only starts with satellites in the 1980s.

Climate Change
Submerged tombs are seen at a flooded village after heavy rainfall caused by tropical storm Son Tinh in Ninh Binh province, Vietnam. VOA

Extreme rainfall

Scientists are fairly sure that climate change is making extreme rainfall more common. Global warming has raised ocean temperatures, leading to more water evaporating into the atmosphere, and warmer air holds more water.

Florence is expected to dump up to 101 centimeters (40 inches) of rain in some spots, leading to what the National Weather Service calls life-threatening flooding.

One group of researchers has estimated that half of the rain falling in the hurricane’s wettest areas is because of human-caused climate change.

Knutson agrees in principle but can’t vouch for the magnitude.

“We do not yet claim that we have detected this increase in hurricane rainfall rate,” he said.

Climate Change
Homes are surrounded by water from the flooded Brazos River in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, in Freeport, Texas. VOA

He points to earlier studies that blamed climate change for 15 to 20 percent of the devastating rainfall Hurricane Harvey poured on Texas last year.

However, these studies looked at all kinds of rainfall, not just hurricanes, Knutson notes.

“We think that hurricanes are probably behaving like the other types of processes, but we have the best data for extreme precipitation in general,” he explained.

The latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report has “medium confidence” in the link between climate change and rainfall extremes.

As Florence trudges across the Carolinas, one recent study suggests that hurricanes are moving slower, giving them more time to do their damage.

But that may be natural variation more than climate change.

“I think we’re still early in the game on that one,” Knutson said.

Climate Change
Women walk through a coastal ghost forest believed to be caused by sea level rise on Assateague Island in Virginia. VOA

Rising sea levels

The area where scientists are most confident is sea level rise. Climate change is responsible for three-quarters of the increase in ocean levels, according to the IPCC report.

“Once you have human-caused sea level rise, then all other things being equal, whatever storms you have will create that much higher storm surge,” Knutson said.

That means more erosion and more damage farther on shore.

Whether this hurricane season as a whole will be one for the record books remains to be seen. While the seas are angry at the moment, that may soon change.

Also Read: Tropical Storm Florence: What To Expect?

An El Niño warming pattern appears to be developing in the Pacific. That tends to squash hurricane activity in the Atlantic.

“It appears that perhaps next week will be much more quiet in both basins,” said NOAA’s Joel Cline. “So it does ebb and flow.”

Next Story

Students Worldwide Skip School to Protest Government’s Failure against Global Warming

They're angry at their elders, and they're not taking it sitting down

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global warming, climate change
Students from different institutions hold placards and banners as they participate in a climate protest in New Delhi, India, March 15, 2019. VOA

They’re angry at their elders, and they’re not taking it sitting down.

Students worldwide are skipping class Friday to take to the streets to protest their governments’ failure to take sufficient action against global warming.

The coordinated “school strikes,” being held from the South Pacific to the edge of the Arctic Circle, were inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who began holding solitary demonstrations outside the Swedish parliament last year.

Since then, the weekly protests have snowballed from a handful of cities to hundreds, driven by social media-savvy students and dramatic headlines about the impact of climate change.

climate change, global warming
Students attend a protest ralley of the “Friday For Future Movement” in Berlin, Germany, March 15, 2019. VOA

Thunberg, who was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, was cheered for her blunt message to leaders at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland this year, when she told them: “I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day.”

Friday’s rallies are expected to be one of the biggest international actions yet. Protests were under way or planned in cities in more than 100 countries, including Hong Kong; New Delhi; Wellington, New Zealand; and Oulo, Finland.

In Berlin some 10,000 protesters, most of them young students, gathered in a downtown square, waving signs with slogans such as “There is no planet B” and “Climate Protection Report Card: F” before a march through the capital’s government quarter. The march was to end with a demonstration outside Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office.

Organizer Carla Reemtsma, a 20-year-old university student, said social media had been key in reaching people directly to coordinate the massive protests in so many different locations, noting that she was in 50 WhatsApp groups and fielding some 30,000 messages a day.

“It’s really important that people are getting together all over the world, because it’s affecting us all,” she said.

Critics, supporters

Some politicians have criticized the students, suggesting they should be spending their time in school, not on the streets.

“One can’t expect children and young people to see all of the global connections, what’s technically reasonable and economically possible,” said the head of Germany’s pro-business Free Democratic Party, Christian Lindner. “That’s a matter for professionals.”

climate change, global warming
Students hold signs during a rally for global climate strike for future in Seoul, South Korea, March 15, 2019. VOA

But scientists have backed the protests, with thousands signing petitions in support of the students in Britain, Finland and Germany.

“We are the professionals and we’re saying the young generation is right,” said Volker Quaschning, a professor of engineering at Berlin’s University of Applied Sciences.

“We should be incredibly grateful and appreciative of their bravery,” said Quaschning, one of more than 23,000 German-speaking scientists to sign a letter of support this week. “Because in a sense, it’s incredibly brave not to go to school for once.”

Scientists have warned for decades that current levels of greenhouse gas emissions are unsustainable, so far with little effect. In 2015, world leaders agreed in Paris to a goal of keeping the Earth’s global temperature rise by the end of the century well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

Yet at present, the world is on track for an increase of 4 degrees Celsius, which experts say would have far-reaching consequences for life on the planet.

“As a doctor, I can say it makes a big difference whether you’ve got a fever of 41 degrees Celsius (105.8 Fahrenheit) or 43 C (109.4 F),” said Eckart von Hirschhausen, a German scientist who signed the call supporting striking students. “One of those is compatible with life, the other isn’t.”

Other action

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have publicly welcomed the student protests, even as their policies have been criticized as too limited by environmental activists.

In France, activist groups launched legal action this week for failing to do enough to fight climate change, citing a similar successful effort in the Netherlands.

climate change, global warming
Hundreds of schoolchildren take part in a climate protest in Hong Kong, March 15, 2019. VOA

In Germany, environmental groups and experts have attacked government plans to continue using coal and natural gas for decades to come. Activists say that countries like Germany should fully “decarbonize” by 2040, giving less-advanced nations a bit more time to wean themselves off fossil fuels while still meeting the Paris goal globally.

Other changes needed to curb greenhouse gas emissions include ramping up renewable energy production, reining in over-consumption culture now spreading beyond the industrialized West and changing diets, experts say.

“The fight against climate change is going to be uncomfortable, in parts, and we need to have a society-wide discussion about this,” said Quaschning.

ALSO READ: The Flamboyant Plastic Waste Boat Reminds The Global Policy-Makers The Urgency To Address Impact Of Plastics on The World’s Marine Environment

That conversation is likely to get louder, with several U.S. presidential hopefuls planning to campaign on climate change.

Luisa Neubauer, one of the Berlin group organizing Fridays for Future, said politicians should take note of the young.

“For the European elections in May, we’re urging everyone to think about whether they want to give their vote to a party that doesn’t have a plan for the future and the climate,” she said. (VOA)